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  • Writer's pictureSubha

Coping Skills For Teams That Are Suddenly Working Remotely

virtual teams

Recently, we saw a seemingly inconsequential, yet life-changing tip on LinkedIn about video calls. After hundreds of hours of talking to people since lockdown, one startup founder discovered that the easiest way to prevent Zoom fatigue is to go from gallery view to speaker view. Just engage with one person at a time rather than constantly seeing everyone and trying to interpret their body language.

Around the globe, people are discovering means big, small and tiny to stay ahead of the COVID-19 impact on the work curve.

A common challenge faced by companies has been the distinct movement away from outcomes-thinking, and instead focusing on getting by today. In our earlier article this month, we spoke about how adrenaline and fumes cannot help us thrive. That applies to individuals and businesses alike.

How then do you go about believing something you cannot see? How do you see a vision when it is clouded by pyjamas, virtual schools and job stress?

How Can Remote Teams Find Purpose and Meaning

Here are a few, San Jose State University approved, ways for virtual teams to find success, purpose and meaning even during these times.

1. Keep an eye out for the pack: The wolfpack will get us through this time. One way to ensure that everyone on the team feels supported and understood is for each team member to keep a lookout for the feelings of the others. A conversation around feelings at the workplace is never easy but is necessary right now. Every individual team member has the responsibility and the privilege now to watch out for those who are falling off the side of the cliff. It may come in the form of general disappointment, lack of faith in the direction, or even something simpler such as being consistently late for team meetings, or being unreachable to a client. This pandemic has given us the opportunity to treat these issues with seriousness and empathy, and training teams to practice compassion every day can go a long way in offering support and feel supported in return.

2. Reduce the barriers to communication: C-suite executives, it is time to make an appearance in your casual attire, a drink in hand. This is particularly important in organisations where a culture of power and hierarchy have always been predominant. In organisations where such rigid structures exist, and roles are separated not just functionally but culturally and even generationally, seeming approachable is the best thing that leaders can do for their people. Businesses are scrambling to align their strategy to the new world order, and it could never take off without buy-in from the people involved. Schedule office hours and after-work hours and let your teams know when to reach out to you about anything under the sun. Before you do that, though, ensure that you have the headspace to coach and counsel others. It may even be worth seeing an executive coach yourself to get your alignment in place.

3. Bear cultural barriers in mind: One person’s joke is another person’s insult. When dealing with geographically spread-out teams, bear in mind that this is a sensitive time. What is an acceptable euphemism here may not be the case elsewhere. Staying current with local news across all the geographies you operate in is key for a leader. Set up Google News alerts for all of these regions and be sure to check the news at least once every day, or ask someone to sum it up for you. This also extends to all-hands meetings and larger gatherings where people from different cultures and with different sensibilities are likely to be present.

4. Find effective ways to collaborate: A culture of accountability is built one completed task at a time. Every team member needs to be given enough time to plan out all of their tasks and dependencies well in advance. Some startups are using the sprint method to determine what needs to be done in a ninety-day period- and therefore, in a week or any given day. This is immensely helpful because team members can see where each of their daily tasks is leading up to thus keeping them motivated. While methods for collaboration could be different for each group, a few elements are common, such as

1. A single source of truth with complete visibility on tasks due, dependencies and expected outcomes

2. A common medium of communication for all stakeholders for particular tasks

3. A system of accountability where a delay is immediately reported and the slack picked up basis need

4. A culture of empathy where dropping the ball once isn’t considered a serious offence, and where team members are provided with the tools they need to cope

5. A pragmatic outlook on what is and isn’t possible, accounting for the many new personal commitments we all now hold space for

Make The Coping Strategy Work

Any coping strategy only works in an environment of honesty. Managers now have the added responsibility of nurturing this environment. The good news is that it begins with the individual self. When Marriott International’s CEO Arne Sorenson presented an honest, vulnerable, futuristic message of where the company would go from here, the video went viral.

“Our team was a bit concerned about using a video today because of my new bald look. Let me just say that my new look is exactly what was expected as a result of my medical treatments. I feel good and my team and I are 100% focused on overcoming the common crisis we face. Now let's talk about that crisis.”

Notice the candid message, vulnerability in expressing personal challenges and successes, without going on a tangent. The five-minute video is full of facts, laced with empathy for each person’s situation.

Choking back tears, Sorenson says:

“I can tell you that I have never had a more difficult moment than this one. There is simply nothing worse than telling highly valued associates—people who are the very heart of this company—that their roles are being impacted by events completely outside of their control.”

For teams that are teetering on the edge of the precipice, there’s nothing quite like some serious camaraderie. Lessons can be learnt from teams that work in high-risk environments like the army, firefighting services and beyond.

This is truly the time to be family.

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